The Americans 3.03 “Open House” Review: Wants and Needs

12 Feb

A variety of philosophical debates that have very real consequences continue to take place on The Americans as Philip and Elizabeth both stand on opposing sides when it comes to their daughter. At the center of the argument is this idea about choice and whether Paige will be have this taken away from her if she is brought into this world. While we ended last week at an impasse of monumental proportions after Elizabeth attempted and failed to sway Philip by baring her soul, it seems that all you need is a very close call to open up the line of conversation. Well, that and a very intimate scene involving pliers.

The Americans 3.03Pulling teeth isn’t easy; it’s not just one yank and it is free much like the Paige problem, which they still don’t have a solution to. Now they are communicating again and what both the very close call and this incredible moment of intimacy have done is open up the channels again. Prior to this very intense scene (which I will come to in a bit) Philip is making sure his opinion is heard loud and clear. When Elizabeth tries to entice him with her naked skin he continues to read his magazine (an issue of Time from November 1982) and offer up thinly veiled passive aggressive comments giving her the green light to sleep with Hans suggesting “You recruit men. That’s part of it, right?” All this stems from a conversation about what to get Paige for her 15th birthday when Elizabeth mentions a necklace she thinks Paige will like. Philip asks how she knows this and his petulant attitude is as a result of everything that is going on. Still this look doesn’t suit you, Philip.

As with most things on this show there are layers to pretty much everything and the original plan was to get her a 10 speed bike. A bike represents freedom (and all I can picture is Angela Chase riding Brian Krakow’s bike) while a necklace is far more sentimental. Both are the kind of presents you can imagine any parent getting their teenage daughter but on The Americans nothing is quite what appears to be on the surface. They also don’t want to get her both as that would be too much and their ideology this makes sense; it also demonstrates how they must choose one and on this occasion Philip is pretty whatever about the whole thing. This is in contrast to the open house tour with a room full of toys with the realtor commenting “It’s impossible not to buy your kids everything they want, right?” This is not an issue in the Jennings home, except that one time they didn’t buy Henry a video game console and he broke into their neighbor’s house. Now Henry has a photo of Sandra Beeman in a bikini hidden away and it might be time Philip and Elizabeth checked in with their son instead of only paying attention to Paige.

One thread which runs throughout the episode and the series in general is this idea of wants and needs. Philip and Elizabeth are from a country with an ideology focused on needs whereas the one they now live in has an ethos which focuses on wants. Philip has assimilated to this with far more ease than Elizabeth and in the pilot we saw how comfortable he was with this lifestyle. Last season saw him get a fancy new car which was quickly tarnished by a mission gone wrong but as he has pointed out to Elizabeth she also likes the things that come with living in America. Just because it is easier doesn’t make it better in Elizabeth’s eyes and while she claims to Hans that she has no idea about fashion, she does have an effortless and chic style as Elizabeth Jennings. Maybe not so much with some of the disguises, but in the role she plays the most she is stylish. Also Hans don’t get the stonewash jeans.

the Americans 3.03 blonde wigChoice is also looped into this debate and it is Philip’s main argument why he doesn’t want to tell Paige about who they are. Gabriel continues to play the concerned and caring parent role to Philip and Elizabeth as he tells Philip everything he thinks he wants to hear; that Paige will have a choice as there is “always a choice.” Philip is having none of this and storms out after emphasizing how young Paige is and because she has grown up in this comfortable environment she isn’t “equipped to deal with this shit.” Earlier in the episode over a game of Scrabble – I love that they haven’t gone for the obvious chess or checkers route – what happened with Jared comes up and while I don’t think Philip fears an act of violence I do think he is worried Paige will reject them.

The channels of discussion remain open even with Philip’s hostility toward Elizabeth about the present; she hasn’t gone ahead and bought the necklace because she wanted to talk to him about it first. Gabriel mentions how Elizabeth looks at Philip differently now – similar to his observation to Elizabeth last week – and if this event had occurred when we first met them I don’t think Elizabeth would have been all that fussed about consulting Philip, she would have probably just done it.

So how to you solve a parenting quandary like this? Currently there is no solution; however they are in harmony once again. The risks this season are somehow even higher than last year and Elizabeth has had two near misses in these first three episodes. While the premiere involved serious physical danger, it is this protracted tailing situation which had me noting SO MUCH TENSION (all caps required) and even though at this point we know Elizabeth will get away the stakes have been raised. The push/pull is between how much they need the information about the CIA’s Afghan group and how close they will get before they get caught. This one ended up with a big score even if Gabriel is reticent about their methods; now they have a babysitter to target and if only Paige was already in the family business.

Elizabeth tells Hans that even though there is chemistry between them (it’s a spy thing) nothing is going to happen in part because “sex is dangerous” but also because there is “someone in my life, someone important and I don’t want to screw that up.” An incredibly significant moment as this is the first time Elizabeth has ever explicitly said something like this, even though in Philip’s anger earlier in the episode he expects her to sleep with him. This follows one of the most intimate scenes this show has done and with a lot of these emotionally vulnerable moments on The Americans (like my favorite scene from last season) it doesn’t involve actual sex. It starts with Philip waiting by the phone and gripping the cord as if that might help followed by an emotionally broken Elizabeth as she doesn’t even try to hide her teary and tired eyes. An all enveloping embrace which mirrors the one from the season 2 finale turns into a passionate smooch which is quickly killed by Elizabeth’s continuing tooth problems so what’s a guy to do but help out his wife in her time of need.

At any other time this moment would have led to sex, on this occasion what we get is an excruciating but incredibly tender scene involving pliers and tooth extraction. Even watching through fingers it is hard not to miss the parallels between this and a sex scene. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are both incredible throughout the episode and particularly here as Elizabeth gives herself entirely over to Philip trusting him that he can get this done. Like many I find scenes involving teeth hard to watch (ditto anything involving finger/toe nails) and as with last week’s bone breaking they don’t shy away from showing just how grim it is. It takes not one but two attempts to get the full tooth and throughout the close ups on their eyes and the way he smooths down her hair and she grabs hold of his shoulders reveals that despite their current conflict they are united. This is true love. And Stan’s whiskey gift is used in the process which is rather poetic considering it was the FBI that did this.

One quick nitpick – don’t the KGB have a dentist on retainer?

“Tell them what they want to hear over and over and over again. People love to hear how right they are.” This is Stan’s tactic when it comes fooling his target and it is something used on multiple occasions by Philip and Elizabeth. Sometimes you have to go the opposite way and when Oleg’s father wants him transferred back to Moscow most likely as retribution for his conversation with Nina last week, Arkady gives him a choice even though it could negatively impact his own career. Oleg of course decides to stay citing his father’s wish for him to grow up and he is doing so by defying his father’s demand. Sometimes you do get a choice in the KGB.

Shot of the Week

the Americans 3.03 evidence wallWhile this is not quite on the Carrie Mathison level of an evidence wall (needs more color coding) this shows three seasons worth of work in attempting to catch Philip and Elizabeth. Stan notes “They are hard to get” and if only he knew just how close they are. Agent Aderholt could be a problem on several levels; he has caught a KGB spy in the past, he is tenacious and he has taken a shine to Martha. Watch your back Clark.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 3.03 disguise of the weekAny time Elizabeth has to wear glasses it is pure joy and it seems like with each disguise the frames get even bigger.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.03 OOTWFulfilling both TV and my own leather jacket obsession and pairing it with jeans which are far, far way from stonewash.

7 Responses to “The Americans 3.03 “Open House” Review: Wants and Needs”


  1. The Americans 3.04 “Dimebag” Review: “She Set Us Up” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - February 19, 2015

    […] Americans squirm inducing rate up a notch from how to pack a suitcase in “Baggage” and last week’s off books dental work. Philip and Elizabeth’s work involves varying extremes on a weekly […]

  2. The Americans 3.05 “Salang Pass” Review: Making it Real | TV Ate My Wardrobe - February 26, 2015

    […] and there is also an element of jealousy as she shut down her own potential hookup with Hans a couple of weeks ago on account of Philip. But then the importance of the mission looms and as Philip now has access to […]

  3. The Americans 3.08 “Divestment” Review: “Is Any of This True?” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - March 19, 2015

    […] boundaries all season and it crosses the stomach churning bar previously set by the packing and dentistry scenes as Ncgobo makes Venter’s death as painful and prolonged as possible by setting him on […]

  4. The Americans 3.13 “March 8, 1983″ Review: “Why Are You Here?” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 23, 2015

    […] of jealousy towards Philip’s other women to the tears we saw not just with Lois, but post the very close call early on this […]

  5. The Americans 4.03 “Experimental City of Tomorrow” Review: “Run, Run, Run” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - March 31, 2016

    […] them down whether it was Stan in the pilot episode sniffing around their garage or when they were being trailed last season. There has always been a way out, an option whether good or bad; they’ve always made it […]

  6. The Americans 6.03 “Urban Transport Planning” Review: The Way We Were | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 12, 2018

    […] The shift in body language goes from pointing toward each other to standing apart. Philip doesn’t think Elizabeth can speak for people back home as she hasn’t spoken to anyone there in over twenty years, her retort of “neither have you” is met with a weighty silence. This would be the time to tell her about Oleg, but he just can’t do. Later he contemplates it while brushing his teeth. She asked him to let her sleep and now he does. The amount Philip clenches his jaw at the moment, he’s gonna need a trip to the dentist. And not the basement kind. […]

  7. The Americans 6.07 “Harvest” Review: Committed | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 10, 2018

    […] can have an entire conversation without saying a word continues to be extraordinary. Intimacy when extracting a tooth or cutting off body parts with an ax is not the easiest thing to convey, but they somehow elevate […]

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